Saturday, August 8, 2009

all I want to do is shop at Tesco's

Maxima's brother Arietinum came to stay with us so that he could accompany his sister and nieces to the Cambridge Folk Festival. It was on from Thursday 30 July until Sunday 2 August; come the weekend I was free, but chose a chinwag over a beer with Professor Calculus, and afterwards to enjoy their tired but happy travellers' tales. I prefer my music at 33rpm.simpler days: his master's voice

I was interested to hear from them that on the first night there'd been a demonstration against the proposed Tesco's store in Cambridge's Mill Road - I guess some festival-goers just go loopy in the absence of mud. But what made me sit up was that the demonstration was contested by other festival-goers, who seemed to have had enough. The campaigners were told that people needed jobs; that the prices in Mill Road shops were too high unless you had the time and/or ability to walk the length of the thoroughfare; that, in the context of a road where you can buy second-hand firearms, hard-core pornography and drug-taking paraphernalia, a medium-sized Tesco's is not the end of the world.

I don't know how many counter-demonstrators there were, but possibly what was hanging on their mind was the assault of a 66-year old woman who was demonstrating in favour of Tesco in Mill Road in May of this year. The Cambridge News' Raymond Brown reports a Tesco official as advising pro-Tesco campaigners "not to put themselves at risk".

So I was interested today to be presented, in Mill Road after work, a leaflet saying that, among other things, there were no "planning decisions favouring Tesco". This is getting rather wearing, which I'm sure is the intended effect. Tesco's always had permission to open a store in Mill Road, what it lost was a request for a cashpoint machine, a refrigeration plant and signage.

The chain's small Mill Road branch is due to open on 26 August, thank God. I say this because then I will be able to choose between it and the Co-op, which at present doesn't have a competitor on the road. I don't object to, say, having no choice but to buy free-range eggs, as is the situation in the Co-op, but do their customers ever pause to think why the large-size eggs have blood on them? Personally, I have no choice, usually, other than buying eggs from caged hens at Tesco's; but, when Arietinum comes, we try to look virtuous and buy free-range eggs from the same place. The last time I looked, it was called choice.

I have to admit that I was wondering why there was an anti-Tesco group in the Folk Festival, which was sponosred by the Co-op. But it wouldn't surprise me if both the Co-op and Cambridge City Council were ignorant of No Mill Road Tesco's activities, because it is in the nature of these people to start battles and leave other people to fight them.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign is the latest group to inveigh against the chain, on the Mill Roadostensibly sensible ground that lorries supplying a store would cause blockages in Mill Road. As a seasoned cyclist who has to go through Mill Road (right) regularly, what do they expect? A small van stopping to supply, say, pornographic magazines to a smaller, more ideologically beautiful store can curdle a traffic-stream just as effectively as the behemoths that block the road as they struggle to park by the side of the Co-op. The thing is, the pic of a Tesco's that was published on a cycling website called, reporting on the Cycling Campaign's views, was presented as an Express - smaller store - while being nothing of the sort. This is the pic, which has since been removed from the site.

at the time of publishing this post, this is how the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is presenting a Tesco for Mill Road

I'm happy to shop beside those who come to Mill Road to buy, say, Bangladeshi clothes, or have a wig fitted, or read about the old gods. I'm at a loss as to how they think a Tesco's might affect them. I want to buy a paper, mince, some tatties and flowers for Maxima in the same place. If people who shop in shops which cater for the ethnic minorities which are welcome in Cambridge - or those who affect to speak for them - are unwilling to let me do this, then I can only question their commitment to diversity.

Once, on the only occasion when I attended the Cambridge Folk Festival, I went to see one of my favourite artists, Eddi Reader, in a side-tent. I was about ten feet from her, but couldn't hear her because Robert Plant's guitarist was amplified as if he were playing the only tune worth listening to. At the time, it exemplified for me the priorities of the British music industry. Reflecting further, I think I understand how people who would like a Tesco's on Mill Road feel.

it's just a shop

Related posts:

Normal Service will not shortly be resumed

A trip to Tesco's

Tesco: a different view always helps

A 45º-turn on battery farming


  1. As you say, Tesco have always been able to open a small shop in Mill Road (and they do have permission for the cashpoint and the signs). They have chosen to delay for almost two years because they said it was impossible without certain things that they have now decided to do without (in particular, external plant and the ability to deliver without going around the back streets - presumably, they were lying in their original planning applications).

    Mill Road probably has few visitors with a fixation for battery eggs and an inability to use more than one shop, so I am not sure why we should tailor our local shopping to their particular prejudices, but there you go. A Tesco Express will not bring new trade, it will take some existing trade from other shops. Most of them are probably working on very narrow margins. Some may close. This is the Tesco business model. There are 14 empty shops on Mill Road already. Shops that close will stay empty. What we really need is new imaginative, independent traders selling (or doing) different things, that will bring new shoppers here. Over half the groceries sold in Cambridge are sold through Tesco already. How does yet another Tesco increase anyone's choice?

  2. Thanks for the comment, David. I'm glad you agree that the No Mill Road Tesco campaign is lying by claiming in its leaflet, to which I've provided a link in the post, that Tesco's has no permissions for its Mill Road Store.

    I don't know anybody with a fixation for battery eggs, but I know many families in the same boat as mine, ie unable to buy freerange eggs regularly because of their price. This is probably why several of the independent traders on Mill Road sell battery eggs. I also know a lot of folk who don't get about so well, so shops like Tesco's and the Co-op are a godsend.

    I'm also heartened that you realise shops in Mill Road are closing before Tesco's is part of the picture. We are in a recession.

    Will shops shut on Mill Road because of Tesco's presence there? I hope not, but perhaps a small amount will. That's capitalism. And that, I think, is what anti-Tesco caumpaigners are really protesting about.

    I hope you'll forgive me for quoting at length from a letter published today in a local paper::

    "I live [nearby] and the trouble caused by lorries in Catharine Street whilst delivering to the Co-op causes far more inconvenience to others. They park over the pavement; it's a brave person who tries to squeeze between wall and lorries. You'd have to be very thin, too.

    "The alternative is to walk. Those pushing prams, those in wheelchairs or elderly with mobility scooters have to travel up the centre of road into the path of traffic turning into Catharine Street, all rather scary.

    "As the footpath is very wide in front of the proposed Tesco why can't a layby for lorries delivering goods be set into path, leaving plenty of walking area still and thereby taking the lorries off the road, so as not to affect the flow of traffic? This applies to other sites too. Seems a simple solution to me.

    "Only problem left is to convince a group of misfits that we are living in a democracy and they have no right whatsoever to influence our choice of shops, we are still living in a free country.

    "So you shop where you want to and give others the right to do the same, it's not much to ask, is it."

  3. You say that

    "The thing is, the pic of a Tesco's that [Cambridge Cycling Campaign] published on their site ..."

    but in fact the site you are linking to is not Cambridge Cycling Campaign, it's some separate news website. Also that picture isn't on that article anyway.

    Perhaps you could correct this error in your article?

  4. Thanks for the comment, Martin; I've amended the article.


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